Making household recycling simpler in Minneapolis will boost tonnage significantly, but that alone won't meet Hennepin County's 35 percent standard for cities, according to a report by a city consultant.

The city's consideration of a switch comes amid considerable pressure from Hennepin County to raise its recycling rate, currently at 17 percent. City officials argue that demographic factors, such as poverty and a large number of rental households, undercut the recycling rate. But St. Paul has achieved a 30 percent rate with a dual-sort system it adopted in 2001.

A consultant the city has hired to guide a switch from its seven-sort system said that going simpler could raise recycling tonnage for household garbage by 20 to 40 percent in Minneapolis. But that would fall short of the doubling of its current rate needed to reach the county's goal.

Moreover, even if the city decides relatively soon to switch to using one- or two-container recycling, the standard for most households elsewhere in the county, it's not likely to meet the county's deadline to do so by the end of 2012, officials said. It may need to buy and distribute new carts or bins for recycling, invest in different collection trucks and negotiate a new agreement with haulers.

Consultant J.D. Lindeberg of Michigan-based Resource Recycling Systems said that Minneapolis can expect to collect more tonnage with a simpler sorting program, but the reject rate for recyclables will also rise. The city's net income from its recycling shouldn't drop significantly, and the switch will make collecting recyclables more efficient, he said.

The city is running pilot collection programs in several neighborhoods in which residents put all recyclable materials in one or two containers. The increase in volume collected ranges from 30 percent with Seward neighborhood's two-sort pilot to Willard Hay neighborhood's 85 percent with a single cart. City Engineer Steve Kotke said he's presuming that the entire city will switch to one or two containers unless the consultant's final findings suggest otherwise.

The council's Transportation and Public Works Committee directed Kotke to come up with a recommendation for a new recycling program that balances city cost, resident convenience and amount collected. That's not expected until at least March.

One complication for Minneapolis is that city crews haul recycling in half of the city, while a consortium of private haulers serves the other half. The contract with those haulers doesn't expire until 2013. Kotke said that could mean that half of the city gets simpler recycling sooner than the rest, or that the contract is renegotiated.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438